If at first you don’t succeed…

Image credit: someone from the internet

Following up on my previous bread post, I finally got around to making my first sourdough bread this weekend. Or should I say, trying to make my first sourdough. I was not expecting perfection; baking good bread takes a lifetime to master, and the sourdough recipe I was using is many times trickier than anything I’ve tried before. And since this was hands-down the worst loaf I’ve ever made, chances are pretty good that the next one will turn out better.

So what actually went wrong? I could explain it myself, but instead I will quote a former coworker with whom I’ve been corresponding about baking. He managed to predict the exact problems I would have, unfortunately just a little too late for me to do anything about it:

The basic Tartine bread looks easy, but is actually quite difficult to master (many, including me, really struggle with it). It has a very high hydration, and working with the dough is a challenge. Shaping it is almost impossible. American flour tends to absorb more water than European flour. If you used American quantities with European flour, you probably had a super-hydrated dough, which is even more difficult to work with.

In other words, my dough was about halfway to being batter. Trying to form a loaf with this goop was like trying to make a pile of water.

The "dough" formed into a "loaf". Note how it's bonded with the towel.

After a good deal of cursing I decided to just go with it and see what happens. But my problems were compounded: because I had put so much effort into forming this blob into a workable shape, I had driven out much of the carbon dioxide that had formed during the fermentation and initial rising. This would be one flat loaf. Perhaps as a consolation, I thought, I could get a rabbi to certify it kosher for Passover. (Sorry gentiles, I’ll explain it to you later).

After one final rise overnight, I put the sad-looking mess into the oven, bracing myself for disappointment. And what came out was… about what I expected.

Brick o' bread
A good crumb would have more holes than bread

Yeah, there are some tiny holes, but this is one dense loaf. The combination of the overly-wet dough and the lack of dissolved gas meant this guy didn’t really rise at all in the oven. I gnawed on a couple slices but the rest of it is just sitting on my counter, growing staler by the minute; an indestructible monument to crushed dreams.

But the next one will be better. That’s how this sort of thing works: iteratively improve your technique, hone the recipe, and keep raising your standards. Until you get bored or develop a gluten sensitivity. This may have been a small setback in my quest for bread supremacy, but don’t you worry, I will rise again.